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Lady Margaret Campbell was a lot of things by all accounts – acid-tongued, quick-witted, a riot at a party, a dog lover, a snob, a lover… But if we're honest, you'd be forgiven for never knowing who she was.
By the time the papers were done with her in 1963, Lady Margaret was mainly referred to by a new moniker: 'The Dirty Duchess'. But as actress Claire Foy stated ahead of the release of A Very British Scandal, this once highly-thought-of woman has been "slut-shamed out of history".
"Most people have a sex life but they don't go on about it all the time, nor should they have to," Foy explained. "Margaret's sexuality seems to have become another personality or something outside of herself. I find that really bizarre and strange.
"Calling her the 'Dirty Duchess' is so misogynistic and I would like to think things have changed but I don't think they have.
"Factually, there's no way of knowing what she felt about who she was in that way."
A famous face even before her marriage to the Duke (her second husband), Lady Margaret was a socialite whose first wedding literally stopped traffic for hours in central London. She was the Kate Moss of her day, the ultimate 'It Girl'.
For a while in the '60s, Lady Margaret was all anyone could talk about. For better to begin with, and then later for worse.
But Foy is not wrong. For her love of a good party and the odd crude joke, Lady Margaret would keep her private life away from prying eyes. Not that you'd know, if you were to Google her name now and believe the nickname she's been given.
Her toxic and damaging marriage and split to Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, is to thank for this. Their divorce was one of the most expensive in British history, with Lady Margaret refusing to back down in court in pursuit of what she was owed.
In exchange for her bravery, her reputation was shredded, her personal life suddenly took centre stage and the divorce became the first major case of revenge porn and slut-shaming within the courts and media.
Naked polaroid photos of her performing oral sex on a "Headless Man" (ie a man whose head was cropped out of the picture) were stolen from her home by her estranged husband as proof of infidelity. Despite how they were acquired, they were allowed into court as evidence, and soon news of what the photos showed spread like wildfire.
The Duchess became headline news, and those who once so admired her suddenly relished tearing her down. So many stories surfaced, the line between truth and rumour remains blurred.
Sadly, despite the story being nearly 60 years old, little has changed, except polaroids have been traded in for screengrabs, and the courts are now those of public opinion. Revenge porn only became a criminal offence in 2015. Some people don't even know what it technically means.
(So everyone here is on the same page, it's the sharing of explicit material without the consent of the person in the photographs. It's often done as an act of revenge in an attempt to humiliate.)
In 1995, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were victims of revenge porn when a disgruntled electrician stole their sex tape and sold it over claims they owed him money. While this did nothing but cement Lee's reputation as a rockstar, our culture's double standards meant Anderson's career was tarnished – despite the tape being of her engaging in a consensual and private act with her then-husband.
After a failed attempt to sue, they eventually came to a settlement with the distributor, IEG, who had argued that by talking about the tape the couple had forfeited their right to privacy. Their story is about to become a Hulu series starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan.
In 2021, you only have to glance at the tabloids to see new instances of the crime.
The faces may change, but the story remains the same. In the case of the Argylls, the Duke left the situation practically unscathed, marrying again within the year, and keeping the millions the Duchess had poured into their family home at Castle Inveraray.
But Lady Margaret, despite her widely known "prim and proper" nature, bore the brunt of being named the "Dirty Duchess". It's something of a miracle the incriminating polaroids never made it to the public domain, as the case preceded the existence of the internet.
Instead, newspapers reported on every detail after the pictures were paraded in front of a judge, a jury and those attending the proceedings in court. Their use was an act of revenge by the Duke, even though he himself had multiple accusations of infidelity against him.
Over the course of the case, the Duchess's private diaries were dissected, with The Duke successfully convincing a judge the use of a "V" was code for her extra-marital affairs, and that she had as many as 80 lovers.
In an unprecedented move, the Duchess had to sit and listen as Judge Wheatley gave a three-hour indictment of her entire character, branding her attitude towards sex "disgusting" and "immoral", and dismissing her as a "completely promiscuous woman".
The Duchess's reputation was left in tatters, with many considering her a social pariah after her private life was splashed across the papers.
After a series of failed investments and the loss of money during her marriage to the Duke, the Duchess died in 1993, mostly penniless – but still with her signature set of three-string pearls.
What's admirable about the Duchess is that she was the epitome of keeping your head held high. She never revealed what "V" meant, who The Headless Man was, and never confirmed or denied any of her 80 reported lovers. It was later revealed this was largely because many of the men named were gay, and she refused to betray them to clear her name as at the time homosexuality was illegal.
In her biography, she again refused to discuss anything to do with her sexual partners or who they were.
Sarah Phelps, who wrote A Very British Scandal, first heard about the Duchess while working in a telesales office in 1993. But rather than see her a figure to be vilified, she saw Lady Margaret as someone to be admired. This was the spark that eventually led to the creation of the new series.
"It's a story about a woman who refused to be slut-shamed, who refused to go quietly and refused to do as she was told," Phelps explains. "She set fire to the expectation of her class, gender and her sex rather than go quietly. She put the private lives of the wealthy, the landed and the titled all over the front pages, not the untouchable great and good but bare, forked animals."
"She could have defended herself; some were single friends in extra-marital affairs and others, if she'd been honest about them, would have been sent to prison for being gay," she added. "But Margaret never betrayed her friends. That's honour.
"She was spoiled, troubled, complex, demanding, infuriating, beautiful, stylish, silly, generous, vain, bloody-minded, very funny and brave. I love her for all of it."
A Very British Scandal starts December 26 and airs across three nights at 9pm on BBC One, and will be available on BBC iPlayer.
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